Everybody Has a Katrina Story

Saturday, December 25, 2010 Road Junkies 0 Comments

New Orleans is a city of characters-- and sometimes caricatures.  A truly unique city in so many ways that most American cities are not-- with distinct cuisine, music, architecture, celebrations and a pure joie de vivre that has helped the city survive so many disasters.

Though newcomers are moving into the city, long-time residents still make up the majority of the population.  Most left in the aftermath of Katrina's flooding in 2005, only to return later to the city which owns their hearts.

Today we met Alfred.  He works as an engineer at one of New Orleans' high-rise buildings.  The chief engineer for the building is a fan of letterboxing and permitted the planting of a letterbox in a mechanical room on one of the upper floors.
When one asks the key phrase of security guards at the premises, one of the building engineers will take you not only to the room where the box is located but also on an aerial tour of the city via the building's roof.

Our tour guide today was Alfred.  In chatting with him about his job and his life in New Orleans, he told us, "Everybody has a Katrina story."  This is his.

In 2005, Alfred was an engineer at the New Orleans Museum of Art.  As the waters rose and flooding began, he was at the museum, which was on a small rise and not taking on water.  Power was out in the city, and Alfred was ensuring that the museum's emergency generator was functioning so that the priceless works of art were kept at the optimum humidity and temperature. 

A group of 74 people were at the museum with him-- employees and others who had taken shelter there for one reason or another.  The museum's director was not present but was determined that Alfred continue to protect the treasures within the facility.

Then the National Guard came and ordered the museum evacuated and generators shut down.  Alfred's director tried to protest by phone but Alfred informed him that the Guard was willing to use arms to enforce their orders.  He and his companions were loaded into helicopters and taken to the New Orleans airport, where he found a chaotic situation.

Eventually, he spent five nights in the open with no place to stay, no facilities for his use, before he was able to join his family, whom he had sent to Texas.  When he returned to New Orleans, he had nothing but his family.  "I lost everything," he said.  He had no home, no job, no posessions. 

Even his treasured saxophone had been destroyed.  With the best of intentions, a relief organization which sought to help musicians affected by Katrina gave him a keyboard.  "But I play the sax," he told them.  "Well, you can learn the keyboard then," was the reply. 

Alfred was the quintessential gentleman.  He genuinely enjoys meeting people and could not have been more gracious and patient with all our questions and chatter.  It was a honor to meet him and hear his story.

A briefer encounter in the French Quarter introduced us to a fine example of a French mastiff and his owners.  As we were walking down Dumaine Street, we saw this dog and a gentleman sitting on the sidewalk outside what was obviously their residence. 

The dog was so nattily attired that a photo seemed imperative.  "Does your dog charge for photos?" I inquired.  The owner replied that the dog did not but that if he did, he could certainly help with household expenses.

About that time, his wife emerged and we enjoyed a chat with the two of them.  When Katrina hit, they lived in one of the neighborhoods near Lake Pontchartrain.  Their home was flooded, and they lost everything before they had a chance to remove their belongings.  Fortunately, they and their pooch survived.

In the aftermath, as they were deciding what to do, a friend told them about a place in the French Quarter.  Though they had never before considered living in the quarter, they decided to give it a try.  Now, they love it!  And their dog is game for whatever costume they want to dress him in to fit the occasion.

For last year's Mardi Gras, he was dressed as a female Saints fan, complete with blonde wig.  "There must have been a couple of thousand photos taken of him," the wife told us.  And like today, he just went along.  He's a survivor, just like so many New Orleanians, all of whom have a fascinating story to tell.